Inbox zero problem–solved

I’ve been pretty good about maintaining inbox zero, that is, cleaning out my email inbox every day (or two).

Things I can do quickly, I do. Things that require more time or I want to save I forward to Evernote. Everything else gets trashed or archived.

Lately, I found myself getting behind. A lot. To the point that I didn’t want to look at my inbox anymore.

Last night, I took action. I added a label to 415 emails (from one guy) and archived them, leaving me with just 39 emails that I’ll handle today.

Yes, that’s a lot of emails from one guy. He writes seven days a week, more when he’s promoting something. I didn’t want to delete them because I get a lot of value from his emails and I want to be able to read them.

Never met the guy but I feel like I know him and I welcome his counsel.

Maybe you feel the same about my emails. You like them, you get information and ideas from them, but you can’t always keep up with me.

You might want to do what I did: label and archive (or put them in a folder) so you can read them later.

You won’t hurt my feelings.

And, if you write a newsletter, you might suggest this to your subscribers, in case they find themselves falling behind.

They can read you later, when they need your help, or when they see the boring dreck written by your competition and miss hearing your “voice”.

It’s not important that your subscribers read everything you write. What’s important is that they see you are still writing to them. See that you’re still helping clients, and still available to them when they need your help.

So, go ahead and write often. Just don’t write dreck.

My email marketing course shows you how to write emails your clients and prospects want to read.

Gmail users now have another way to achieve inbox zero

In my Evernote For Lawyers ebook, I described how I (finally) achieved “inbox zero”. In case you don’t know, that means my email inbox is empty. The short version of how I did it: I identified the important emails that needed a reply or further action or that I needed to save and then archived everything else.

If you’ve never experienced an inbox zero, you should try it. Looking at an empty inbox and knowing that you have everything under control is a great feeling.

Now, what about the important emails? No surprises. I forward them to Evernote where I tag them for further action or assign them to a project. This allows me to keep my email inbox empty.

But there is a niggling issue. To reply to the original email I have saved to Evernote, rather than starting a new email, I have to find the original email in my Gmail archive. Not terribly difficult, but I just leaned something that makes it so much easier.

It turns out that Gmail allows you to bookmark your emails. Every email has a unique URL that you can access from your browser address bar. By copying and pasting that URL into an Evernote note or other note taking app, you can retrieve that email by clicking on the url. If you are logged into your Gmail account, the bookmarked email will open, ready for your reply.

Gmail gives you other options for curating and retrieving emails. Labels, filters, and stars are all helpful. But there’s nothing faster or more accurate than clicking on a URL to find a specific email.

You can also use this function to bookmark emails you need for an upcoming meeting or event. Paste the URL into your todo app or calendar and everything you need is just one click away.

Do you bookmark your email URLs? How has this helped you become more productive?

Evernote for Lawyers shows you how to get organized and increase your productivity

Does your email Inbox need to go on a diet? Try mine.

email overloadMy spell checker tells me “unsubscribe” isn’t a word but I know it is because I’ve been doing a lot of it lately.

Now that I’ve achieved “Inbox Zero” (I’ll tell you how I did it in a later post) new emails into my nearly-empty Inbox stand out like a big pimple on an otherwise unblemished forehead. And I’m getting more these days now that the holiday shopping season is in high gear.

And so I’m being ruthless at unsubscribing (also not a word) from as many newsletters and other email subscriptions as possible. I know I can always re-subscribe if I change my mind.

It feels great. You should try it.

Ask yourself, “Do I usually read email from this person/company/group?” If the answer is no, hit the unsub link (okay, now I’m making up words).

If you’re not sure, or if you do at times read these emails, leave the subscription in place for now. You can have another go at this once you’ve removed the most obvious subscriptions.

Another option is to create a filter to automatically send these emails to your email archive. You’ll still get them but you won’t have to see them, unless and until you choose to. Filters are easy to set up in gmail; check your email client’s help file to see if this is possible and how to do it.

A third option for reducing the amount of incoming email is to set up another email address specifically for these subscriptions. Some email services allow you to change your email address. Others require you to unsubscribe and re-subscribe with the new email address.

I have an email address I set up for this purpose. Right now I have all of those messages forwarded to my regular Inbox, but it’s easy to turn off this function. I can then check the other email account once a month, scan through the messages, and decide if there is anything worth reading.

I like getting email. It’s an important part of my work and personal life. I’m sure email is important to you, too. But when you get too many emails, particularly emails you aren’t reading, it’s time to put your email Inbox on a diet.

You might want to hurry. The after Christmas sales will be here before we know it.

Save time by not filing email; study proves search is quicker

Filing emails in folders, or adding labels to them, doesn’t make them quicker to find. According to a study by IBM Research, it’s quicker to find them by searches.

“Finding emails by searches took on average 17 seconds, versus 58 seconds finding the emails by folder,” the researchers concluded. “The likelihood of success – that is, finding the intended email – was no greater when it had been filed in a folder.”

The time spent filing email, in addition to the added time spent retrieving it, can add 20 minutes a day to your workload, the study concluded. A comment to the article questions whether this is true under real world conditions:

In the majority of scenarios, searching is more efficient, however if you forget. . . the metadata [key words]. . . related to the email, then your search efforts are going to be quite difficult. On the other hand, if you remember that you simply filed the email under the “important” folder, then odds are you may only be a few clicks away. In a black and white world, yes searching is more efficient, however there are still valid purposes to using folders.

My plan to achieve email inbox zero calls for me to get rid of all but one label and rely on Gmail’s search capability. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss having more labels since I don’t use the 50 I currently have. But my view is colored by my use of Evernote to file important emails and to manage tasks and projects.

In Evernote, I tag everything (and sometimes also add key words to the body of the note). The difference though is that I don’t “file” all my email this way, just the actionable or otherwise important ones which constitute less than 5%.

I found most interesting the researchers conclusion that most people don’t file emails in folders to make it easier to find them so much as to remove from view the overwhelming volume of email. They pare down the inbox so that they can use it for task management, which the study implied was not efficient.

If they used Evernote like I do, they wouldn’t have to spend as much time filing all of their email in the right folders, they could simply send the important ones to Evernote and archive the rest.

Evernote and my plan for achieving “Inbox Zero”

I have tens of thousands of emails in my Gmail inbox. At last count, 16, 503 are unread. I have over 50 labels set up. I don’t use any of them. It’s a mess

When I first learned about Inbox Zero I swooned. The idea is intoxicating. When your inbox is empty, you are no longer overwhelmed by email. You are in control. You enjoy a Zen-like feeling of tranquility. You process your email inbox once or twice a day, keeping it at zero. You have a “mind like water”.

I loved the idea, but the thought of going through tens of thousands of emails was about as appealing as a state bar complaint.

Email has long been the final frontier in my productivity makeover. I’ve resisted changing for a long time. But now, I have a plan.

My plan involves my favorite productivity tool, Evernote, which I use for collecting information and managing my projects and tasks. I use it all day long, in every part of my work flow, as my tool for Getting Things Done. Read my previous posts on how I use Evernote for getting things done.

Right now, when I get an email that requires action of any kind (a reply, a call, review, read, etc.) or that is related to a project I’m working on, or is something I want to keep for reference purposes (receipts, newsletter ideas, research, documents, etc.), or something I am waiting for, I forward that email to Evernote. I then tag it and incorporate it into my gtd system.

If an email requires a reply that will take no more than two minutes, I do it. I may also send a bcc to Evernote.

Sometimes, I get emails requiring action that I don’t send to Evernote. An example is an email I got recently from someone I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. I didn’t want to dash off a quick reply, I wanted to give it some thought. In this case, I added a @Reply label and archived the email in Gmail. When I’m ready to reply, the label will help  me find it.

Yes, I could also send these to Evernote, but I like having the orignial email connected to my reply. And, if I do send it to Evernote, I want to do so after I’ve replied, so I have both the original email and my reply in one Evernote note.

So, here’s my plan for achieving email bliss using Evernote and Gmail:

First, when I have some quiet time, (this will probably require several sessions), I will go through my Gmail inbox, scanning (not reading) and quickly doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribing from newsletters I don’t read.
  2. Adding @Reply label to anything I need to reply to that will take more than two minutes but does not need to be tracked.
  3. Sending Action and Reference items to Evernote.
  4. Trashing or archiving everything else.

Once my email inbox is empty, as new emails come in, I will review and process them, as follows.

  • If it requires a response or action that will take two minutes or less, I will do it, then Archive it; if I want to, I can also send a bcc to my Evernote account.
  • If it will take more than two minutes but I don’t need to keep notes, add it to a project, or track it, I will label it @Reply and do it as soon as possible.
  • If I’m waiting for a reply or for something to occur, I will send it to Evernote (and add a @Waiting tag).
  • If it’s something I want to keep for reference, an important email, an exemple of a good sales letter, a receipt, or something I want to read later, I will send it to Evernote.
  • All other emails will go into Archive or get trashed. At day’s end, I will again have an empty Inbox and an empty mind.

The premise behind all of this is to identify emails that need action. That’s key. Everything else is reference and can be found through search.

Note, I will use just one label in Gmail, @Reply. I am open to adding others down the road, but only if they truly serve me. For example, I may find it easier to label emails @Read/Review in Gmail, rather than sending them to Evernote for that purpose. I may also add labels for specific projects, or use them temporarily (e.g., for promotions). But for now, one label will do.

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have you achieved “Inbox Zero”? What do you think of my plan?